What is U.S. Federal Tort Reform?

by amberpaley on April 15, 2012

Politicians and the media have been talking about Tort Reform since the 1990’s in the U.S.  More recently, a federal tort reform bill was proposed to the U.S. House of Representatives.  It’s been in the House for over a year and whether it will pass or not is still unknown.  If passed, however, said reform will have a substantial impact on personal injury cases in the United States.

Background
The reasoning behind tort reform is that personal injury cases are expensive to the federal and state governments.  Many say that such cases have had such an impact that they’re actually driving up the costs of health care in the U.S.  People also claim that the majority of personal injury cases, specifically medical malpractice cases, are frivolous.  Thus, in theory, tort reform has been proposed to cut down on the costs medical malpractice cases and deter frivolous cases from being filed.

What Federal Tort Reform Proposes
Formally known as H.R. 5, informally deemed The Help Efficient, Accessible, Low Cost, Timely Healthcare (HEALTH) Act of 2011 and most recently renamed the Protecting Access to Healthcare Act, this act moves to set, “conditions for lawsuits arising from health care liability claims regarding health care goods or services or any medical product affecting interstate commerce.”  The goal of the act is to “improve patient access to health care services and provide improved medical care by reducing the excessive burden the liability system places on the health care delivery system.”  To do this, the act proposes that the following be federally mandated in all U.S. state courts:

First, a universal statute of limitations will be placed on all medical malpractice cases.  If an injured party does not act within 3 years from the date he/she incurred the injury, or within one year after discovering the injury, he/she will no longer be eligible to file a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Second, the noneconomic damages one may receive from a medical malpractice case shall be limited to $250,000.  Negligible parties will only be held responsible for the percentage of responsibility they share in a patient’s injuries.

Third, courts may restrict how much a lawyer may charge in contingency fees, and may place limits on those fees at a decreasing percentage as the awarded value of a case grows.

Fourth, the act “Allows the introduction of collateral source benefits and the amount paid to secure such benefits as evidence. Prohibits a provider of such benefits from recovering any amount from an award in a health care lawsuit involving injury or wrongful death.”

Fifth, the act only allows for punitive damages to be awarded if both compensatory damages are awarded AND there is “clear and convincing evidence” that a guilty party acted deliberately and maliciously to injure a patient or purposely ignored steps to prevent injury to a patient.  Punitive damages will be capped at either two times the economic damages awarded or $250,000.

Amber Paley is a guest post author.  Outraged by the prevalence of elder abuse in the U.S., Amber spends much of her professional life writing education articles to help those affected by elder abuse find good nursing home abuse lawyers.

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